Raiders rolling, Cards in trouble and more

Here we are at the halfway point of the 2016 NFL season. After a long day of games on Sunday, let’s get into some Week 8 observations.

For all the talk you hear about how the NFL continues to put poor matchups abroad and on nationally televised games, this was a very good overtime game in London between two quality teams.

Washington dominated the first half, but only went into halftime with a three-point lead. It was questionable if Josh Norman would play or not in this game. Norman drew multiple illegal hands to the face calls in press coverage on A.J. Green, who he followed in this matchup, but he also could have easily had multiple interceptions. Green put up big numbers and did win that one-on-one battle without question, but Norman hung with him.

Having an underrated season, but this wasn’t Andy Dalton’s best day. Dalton is fortunate that he didn’t throw several more interceptions. However, Cincinnati’s red zone offense, mostly due to its running game, was much better in 2015 than it has been this season. Tyler Eifert is a focal point and certainly makes a big difference in Cincinnati’s passing game, while Washington’s tight ends just abused the Bengals linebackers and safeties.

The middle of the Bengals’ defense is a problem area and Cincinnati missed too many tackles, which was further shown by consistent production from Jamison Crowder, his second straight 100-yard game. While asking Kirk Cousins to throw 56 times might not be the best idea, clearly the Redskins saw matchups to their liking in the passing game and the pas protection was exceptional.

In a well-played game, one area of inadequacy stood out and that was the kickers, with the Redskins missing a game-winner in overtime as the most notable example. Dalton’s overtime fumble wasn’t exactly a high point either. The Bengals have a much more favorable schedule of these two after their bye weeks, but both should remain in the playoff picture going forward.

Panthers get off the mat

After a very long and very grueling game against Seattle that ended in a tie, the Cardinals looked like a weary and fatigued team on their cross-country road trip to Carolina. Meanwhile, the Panthers were well-rested after their much-needed bye week and took it to Arizona from the start.

One of the huge keys to this game and a facet of Carolina’s defense that has been surprisingly lacking this year was the play of the Panthers’ defensive line. Carson Palmer was sacked a whopping eight times in this contest, three of them by Star Lotulelei, and was under duress on a high percentage of his dropbacks.

Kawann Short has been auspiciously quiet this season after being a destructive force a year ago. Today he looked like the 2015 version, which is fantastic news for Carolina. Arizona’s offensive line has had its ups and downs this season, but the Panthers’ defensive line hasn’t been nearly as potent as it was during last year’s Super Bowl run. Because they put few resources into their secondary, it is imperative that Carolina is exceptional up front and isn’t forced to blitz a real high percentage of the time to get pressure, although Arizona’s blitz pickup was a real problem.

Still, the Panthers got to Palmer by just bringing four over and over. Almost as impressive, the Panthers held David Johnson to a measly 24 yards on his 10 carries, although the Cardinals were in catch-up mode from the start of this game. Becoming relevant in the NFC playoff hunt is still a long way away for Carolina. But this is a fantastic start and don’t be surprised if the second half of the season goes far better than the first half for the Panthers, especially if their defensive line can play at a level resembling how they performed today.

Not to mention, this was probably the best game Cam Newton, especially when he was pressured, has played all year.

Raiders continue march toward playoffs

The Raiders won on the road despite committing an utterly amazing and record-setting 23 penalties for an even 200 yards in Tampa Bay. They also missed two field goals and lost the turnover battle. How does a team get a win in the NFL under such circumstances? The biggest reason is Derek Carr, who is putting himself into consideration right now for league MVP.

Carr threw for 513 yards with 173 of those going to Amari Cooper, who, despite a key drop, was far more than the Buccaneers’ secondary could handle. This was especially true in the second half, Cooper amassed 161 yards on 12 catches.

Carr elevated those around him, a true mark that he is progressing overall at a very rapid and encouraging pace. He was especially impressive throwing downfield in this contest and excellent protection certainly helped that cause. Poor tackling late in the game sure didn’t help the Buccaneers’ cause, though.

While it was obvious to all that Carr was the star of the show today, Oakland’s best defensive player, Khalil Mack, also was simply fantastic as well. There is a lot to get excited about right now for the Raiders. After outgaining Tampa Bay by 356 yards, not only are the Raiders 6-2, but they are 5-0 on the road.

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